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Home / Interviews  / Behind the Design: Deborah Costa and Kristine Renee of Design Alchemy

Behind the Design: Deborah Costa and Kristine Renee of Design Alchemy

Design Alchemy

Behind the Design: Ivy Design Firm Design Alchemy – Sacramento, CA


How did you get where you are today?

Deborah Costa: Wow, how long do you have? In short, I started designing video game studios for entertainment giants Sony and Sega in the late ‘80s. Since the industry was in its infancy, there was an extreme shortage of developers so creating the coolest/hippest development studios possible was imperative to attract, and maintain, talent. I spent a decade working with immensely talented individuals (like Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Michael Jordan, and MTV) and was able to push the limits of creativity and travel the globe. However, raising a family while working crazy hours and traveling constantly didn’t mix well so I left the corporate world to focus on residential design and have never looked back.

My daughter, Kristine, started accompanying me on projects around the age of three so she’s been in and around the industry for over 25 years. Even as a toddler, she found design intriguing and loved watching spaces transform. Her father is a General Contractor so she’s been fully immersed in the business since birth. While in college, she lived in Rome and travelled throughout Europe soaking up the history and architecture. After obtaining her BA, she relocated to Southeast Asia on a Fulbright Grant and spent the majority of her free time seeking out furniture manufacturers and suppliers throughout region. Upon her return to the States, we joined forces and we’ve been partners now for six years.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

You are a dynamic mother-daughter team…how did that happen exactly?

DC: I had a thriving design practice in the Sacramento area for 20 years but was feeling a bit overwhelmed. Kristine was anxious to build a practice and to continue to work with the sources and suppliers she had built during her travels, so joining forces was a natural progression. We’ve always had a very tight relationship and it seemed natural to team up. The results have been beyond our wildest dreams.

Where does your relationship as business partners end and as family begin?

DC: We aren’t sure we do separate the two. We both live and breathe design and are constantly seeking new inspiration, strategies and opportunities. Our work is our passion and we feel immensely blessed to be able to share our wins/losses, trials/tribulations and inspirations with each other. There is no one we trust more and we know, without a doubt, that we always have each other’s back.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

What’s the design scene like in Sacramento? Who are your favorite vendors and tradespeople to work with in Sacramento, CA?

DC: We are fortunate to be able to work in a variety of locations. We have many clients in the San Francisco/Bay Area and Southern California so we visit the design showrooms in SF, Los Angeles and Laguna frequently. Many of our clients also have second homes in amazing places so we venture to Lake Tahoe, the coast, and Mexico pretty regularly and try to source locally as much as possible.

In Sacramento, we’ve got a family of incredibly talented woodworkers, painters, metalworkers, contractors, plumbers and other subs that we work with constantly and will travel with us to complete projects.

Sacramento is truly up and coming and we are proud to be part of its growth. We only work by referral so our clients have already seen our work and trust in our vision. This makes it easier to push the limits of their comfort zone to develop environments that are more progressive than what other firms would typically design.

We are also lucky to have a huge community of artisans to collaborate with on all of our projects. This link is imperative to creative fresh spaces. Our shop is located in the Antique and Design Center in East Sacramento and some of our favorite sources are also our neighbors. The Ruralist sources the best collection of unique home and garden bespoken items while Sekula’s Antiques specializes in high-end art, books, and collectibles. We also partner with Ali from Kechmara Designs to supply us with unique Moroccan rugs and trinkets.

What’s your business mantra? How does designing make you feel?

DC: Creating spaces that make people happy is everything. Home is very important to us and we need to live and work in spaces that inspire and ground us. We feel blessed that we can do the same for others. We know we are not solving world peace or developing a cure for cancer. However, we do our best to create peace in our client’s homes and develop spaces where people can truly relax, reflect, love and grow.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

You have a retail store as well….tell us about that!

DC: Our ever-evolving store…yep, we’ve had a retail shoppe for about five years now. It’s actually our favorite place to shop. We buy treasures we love at market, through our travels, from our local craftspeople…whatever we just have to introduce to our clients and community.

When we were in Provence last Fall, we connected with an amazing soap manufacturer who creates the most unique blocks of soap that we now use in every project. While at Maison-Objet, we connected with a terrific chair line out of Spain, a linen line from Portugal, and a textile line from Africa made by a village of women who were abused by their family members and are now supporting themselves through craftwork.

We also design furniture for a manufacturer in India that sells to mass merchandisers. We would spend time at the plant in India, then, the pre-production versions of our products would be shipped to us for review and editing prior to production–we were developing quite an inventory. It seemed logical to display these items on our show floor along with the other vintage pieces we picked up while in India and Indonesia.

When it is time to style a project, we pull primarily from our store inventory. Since we don’t purchase anything for our shoppe that we don’t love, it’s easy for us to find special pieces to accessorize a project.

How do you discover new and inspiring finds that can be used for client projects?

DC: Travel, travel, travel! It’s imperative for us to visit boutique hotels, hip restaurants, and new geographies to keep our projects fresh and evolving. This doesn’t have to be expensive…we hit up happy hours, browse lobbies, request room tours from hotel staff, utilize hotel tonight, connect with local designers, research extensively before leaving, and focus on “where the locals go” instead of the tourist attractions. We utilize airline points accumulated through product purchases on credit cards to help minimize expenses (you’d be shocked at how quickly the points build up).

We also subscribe to a variety of fashion, décor, and travel magazines to stay on top of trends and news and purchase 2-3 new design hard copy books each month to share with each other. There’s nothing better than a morning cup of joe while flipping through the pages of an inspiring publication.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

As designers, why do you prioritize High Point Market over other markets?

DC: Although High Point is harder to get to than some international shows we frequent (and the hotel scene is less than desirable), we consider it a must. So many of our favorite domestic suppliers only show at High Point and many of them have manufacturing facilities in the area. Since we have to sit in every piece of upholstery we source, High Point makes our job so much easier.

We make it a practice to attend numerous regional markets, Las Vegas Market, and one international market each year as well. We try to incorporate design showrooms, notable home décor stores, boutique hotels, and art galleries into our market visits to make the most of each experience.

Tell us about your upcoming road trip down to Savannah, Georgia…

DC: We’ve been wanting to take a road trip to the South for a few years now but the timing hasn’t been right. This is the year! We’ve been researching Savannah and Charleston for two years and have a myriad of historical houses, hotels, structures, shoppes, neighborhoods and craftspeople that we can’t wait to explore.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

Your Instagram is beautiful…how much time do you dedicate towards Instagram and other content marketing efforts?

DC: Oh boy, Instagram is a double edged-sword. We understand that it links us to the world but it’s very difficult for us to dedicate the time we know we need to to present the image we’d like to project. We are incredibly busy with our clients and barely have time to stay on top of our day-to-day business. We feel like one of us has to control our social media presence because it is our voice and aesthetic that is presented. Therefore, we do our best to post regularly and engage with our audience as much as possible. In short, we’d like to spend more time, but our clients have to come first.

What’s your business model?

DC: There are three segments to our business:

1) Interior design practice: We work on large scale residential projects, boutique hotels, and select commercial properties. Our typical projects are in the $500k- $3m range.

2) Retail shop: We curate our shop with items that we love and look for opportunities to showcase local artisans and craftsmen who are not yet mainstream.

3) Specialty Rentals and Home Staging: We have a 10k warehouse full of furniture and accessories that we utilize to stage vacant homes and furnish specialty events throughout Northern California. Our crew of design assistants and movers stage 2-3 vacant homes per week.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

Why did you choose Ivy as your software of choice for your business management needs

DC: We chose Ivy because of its ease of integration into our practice. The other packages we’ve utilized in the past were cumbersome and required a great deal of back office support and training. We also like the ease at which we are able to integrate it with QuickBooks Online.

How has Ivy transformed your design business?

DC: Ivy’s easy to implement tracking system allows our design and warehouse personnel to seamlessly monitor projects. We are much more organized and informed about the status of our orders.

Design Alchemy

Photo by Stephanie Russo

What’s an Ivy feature you can’t live without?

DC: The Ivy Product Clipper is indispensable. It makes the sourcing process more organized and streamlined.

What have you learned from the Ivy Design Community?

DC: The Ivy community is terrific. The support that the designers offer each other is invaluable especially since our business can sometimes be very isolating.

Photography by Stephanie Russo


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